Phone Scams Are On The Rise
- 20th May 2021
- Michelle Pace
- Cyber Crime
Phone Scams Are On The Rise
We have all had a nuisance call at some point, selling double glazing or advising us about mis-sold PPI, even silent calls with no one at the other end, but the UK is seeing an alarming rise in phone scams.
Since the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, thousands of us have spent much more time at home than previously. Fraudsters are reaping the consequences of this, knowing we are more likely to answer a call they make to inform us of bogus problems, while claiming to be from reputable companies.
The list of such companies affected by fraudulent callers posing as genuine members of staff is extensive, with some of the most well-known companies and organisations being imitated, such as:
- National Insurance
- Banking and credit card companies
- Census 2021
- Royal Mail
There have been hundreds of reports of Covid vaccine scams, NHS Track and Trace, dating fraud, pension and investment deceits, mobile phone companies, and many more. With over £130 billion taken by fraudsters, from businesses and individuals in 2019, this is a lucrative business (2019 The Financial Cost of Fraud Report)
What do I need to look out for?
There are a number of ways that fraudsters can dupe their victims, and it could happen to any of us, no matter how knowledgeable you consider yourself to be.
Any unsolicited call made to you is classed as cold calling but the content of such calls can vary enormously, from convincing us to buy something to literally stealing from our bank accounts.
Simple cold calling is merely just a nuisance for many of us but, for the elderly and vulnerable, these calls can seem quite demanding and frightening when being aggressively persuaded to purchase something they don’t need or want.
We have all had a missed call and not recognised the number. The call to your phone may have lasted under a second but it registers on your device. These fraudsters prey on the hope that you return the call, without realising you are being charged a large sum to do so for as long as you are on the call. Some of these numbers look very similar to mobile numbers, for example, 070 or 076, but cost considerably more than a standard mobile call. Be wary of numbers that begin with -
- 070, 076
- 084, 087
- 090, 091
Data breaches may have allowed your personal details to surface online, often bought for a small fee by criminals. Data breaches frequently include your name, address, date of birth, banking credentials, even passport and driving licence numbers. Once a bogus company has these details and can reiterate your own information, it can lull us into believing they really are who they say they are.
‘Spoofing’ calls are becoming increasingly more common. Criminals have the technology to disguise the scam phone numbers they are calling from and instead can display the number from a well-known company, lulling you into thinking it’s a genuine call.
Scammers quite often use confusion, fear and intimidation which induces panic and leads us to make on-the-spot decisions. This could be the threat of prosecution or sending bailiffs if an ‘outstanding’ bill isn’t paid there and then over the phone, or that our bank account has been hacked and we immediately need to move our money to a ‘safe’ account. This safe account doesn’t exist for us, only for the scammers.
The HMRC scam is just one of the high profile scams of recent months that uses such tactics. The caller claims to be from HMRC and informs you that you have an outstanding amount that needs to be paid immediately, hinting at legal proceedings or sending bailiffs otherwise to recover the cost. Panic and fear ensue with the call appearing to come from a government body and makes our rationale a little skewed. By cementing that fear, the fraudster will persuade you to pay the amount over the phone with your bank or credit card.
HMRC are aware of many other scams and have posted warnings of them on their site which you can view here.
Another scam is that your National Insurance number has been compromised and press ‘one’ to speak to the caller. You are then pressured into handing over personal details in order to obtain a new number, but in reality, the scammer now has your personal details and no new number will be (or needed to be) issued.
Amazon scam phone calls have also seen a surge. Customers are receiving calls from Amazon, with the caller purporting to be from the customer service team, advising that a fraudulent transaction has been made on the account in question and to ‘press one’ to cancel the said payment. At this point, customers are asked to enter their personal information including a payment method. With over 15 million customers subscribing to Amazon Prime, even if a small percentage continue, this could make the criminals a lot of money.
Amazon has stated that they will never ask for payment or offer a refund that you are not expecting and especially not outside of their website, such as via bank transfer. If you have any concerns, Amazon asks that you call their customer service department on 0800 279 7234.
Microsoft has had issues with callers pretending to work for Microsoft and informing customers that their device has been infected by a virus. The caller asks for you by name, allowing you to feel a little more secure, and talks you through the steps of how to solve the issue. Quite often, this is a ruse that tricks you into installing the virus and could also allow the fraudster remote access to your PC. The malware can collect any personal information, including sensitive banking details etc.
If you have had any of your personal details stolen or hacked, you may find a surge in such calls, with an influx of spam/phishing emails or irregular activity on your bank accounts, because your details may have been put up for sale on the Dark Web. This could have happened via a data breach, software virus or a previous hoax call that you fell victim to. Notty has a FraudWeb search as part of your free Notty Account to ascertain if your details are on the Dark Web and advice on what to do if they are.
Steps to take if you suspect that you have fallen victim to a scammer
If you have been a victim of a scam call or even if you only suspect you have been, there are measures you can take.
- Ensure your device security is up to date, by downloading the latest updates and investing in McAfee Total Protection.
- Set up your free Notty Account and run your free FraudWeb search.
- Look into using the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) that can help block nuisance calls. Your mobile service provider will be able to help too.
- If you are unhappy with a call and have suspicions, hang up.
- Note any information that you can, such as company name, phone number, how many times you have been called and over what period of time. Any information that you have will be of help.
- Use a bank transfer to send money, you will not be covered by your bank if you do.
- Panic!!! Any reputable company will allow you time to make a payment or even call them back at another time. Take time to calm down and think before paying a sum of money to anyone.
- Return any missed calls that you weren’t expecting or have suspicions about - if the caller needs you, they will leave a message and you can verify the identity in your own time.
- Click on any suspicious links in an unknown email or text message, even if to tell them no, it shows that your email is an active one and may line you up for further spam messages.
- Never disclose your full passwords or your PIN to anyone - even your own bank will never ask for these.
- Install antivirus software that is suggested as a result of a marketing call.
Ofcom has a few handy guides on how to help prevent and how to report unwanted marketing calls etc. Ofcom can take action against repeated offenders with fines of up to £2 million if companies are found to be breaking the laws.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) can help by reporting nuisance and unsolicited calls to them here. You can also report spam emails and unwanted text messages here too.
If you have become a victim of fraud, by any means, Victim Support is there to help. Click here to access their website or call 0808 16 89 111 with a 24-hour helpline.